Colombia and Honduras lead the way in tackling devastating coffee rust disease

In 2008, coffee rust almost killed Colombia's $2.6 billion coffee industry.A decade later, it's about...

Posted: Aug 8, 2018 5:45 PM
Updated: Aug 8, 2018 5:45 PM

In 2008, coffee rust almost killed Colombia's $2.6 billion coffee industry.

A decade later, it's about to harvest its biggest ever crop.

Colombia managed to turn things around with significant government intervention, research into the disease and by planting varieties resistant to the fungus.

The battle, however, is not over.

Coffee rust -- or la roya as it's called in Latin America -- is a persistent problem, exacerbated by climate change. It's making coffee more and more expensive, while at the same time making it harder and harder for coffee producers to earn a living.

When the orange-hued spores appear on a tree, that tree sheds its leaves and stops producing coffee cherries. Just like that, the disease can devastate a country's coffee industry.

It happened across Central America in 2012, and traditional coffee producing countries like Guatemala still haven't recovered.

Honduras, now the world's third largest coffee producer, did bounce back. Experts say its because the Honduran government followed the Colombia model.

Both countries fund a central coffee authority. Others that don't, like El Salvador, which mostly left farmers to self-organize, haven't bounced back from the devastation. Unlike Honduras and Colombia, El Salvador's central authority is disorganized and ineffective.

Colombia's National Coffee Federation (the FNC) was ready in 2008 to give growers seeds from a brand-new variety of rust-resistant coffee to replant trees immediately. In the past few years, 45% of the 940,000 hectares of coffee farms in Colombia has been replanted with rust-resistant varieties, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service.

The FNC also provided technical support to growers. The technicians, known as "yellow shirts" for their uniforms, personally visit farmers to advise them on correct fungicidal application and other best practices.

And in a partnership with state-run banks, the FNC offers financial assistance for growers in the form of loans to fund improved farming techniques. These seven-year loans are designed to come due after the plants start producing.

"Coffee trees take three years to mature, which means farmers are missing income for three years," explained Hanna Neuschwander, communications director at World Coffee Research.

Because of the remedies, Colombia's coffee output rebounded from a low 8.5 million bags in 2008, to output of 14.5 million 60 kg (132 lbs) bags this year.

Related: 5 stunning facts about coffee

Like Colombia, Honduras has managed to thrive in recent years because of its central coffee authority, IHCAFE, which organizes loan programs and technical assistance for farmers.

The IHCAFE was able to pinpoint that the Lempira variety, common in Honduras, was susceptible to rust. The group was therefore able to research and breed alternatives.

And because Honduras' coffee industry is relatively young and the farms are smaller, it's cheaper to replace trees and easier to bounce back, said Jan von Enden, managing director at Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung, a foundation that works to provide tools and programs to help local coffee growers.

But even with robust support operations like FNC and IHCAFE, coffee rust is still a major problem.

Rust continues to defy research, mutating and appearing on varieties that were previously resistant. Even well-prepared Honduras can't escape this reality.

"It's a bit of an arms race," said Neuschwander.

For instance, it was previously believed that rust was avoidable in higher altitudes, where it's colder. But temperatures are rising higher up, developing more beneficial conditions for the spreading of rust spores.

"We don't know if the resistance will last for a long time," said von Enden. "Rust evolves, so we have to keep on breeding new varieties to keep the resistance up."

Terre Haute
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 59°
Robinson
Broken Clouds
57° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 57°
Indianapolis
Few Clouds
64° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 64°
Rockville
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 55°
Casey
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 64°
Brazil
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 59°
Marshall
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 59°
Clear, Patchy Fog
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 189705

Reported Deaths: 7791
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1091504912
Lake12376444
DuPage11926519
Kane9509302
Will8932344
St. Clair3845159
Winnebago3746128
McHenry3060114
Madison241074
Kankakee171368
Rock Island165634
Champaign161519
Peoria148835
Unassigned1342197
Kendall131923
Sangamon115133
DeKalb89830
Boone75423
Jackson68519
LaSalle66621
McLean61115
Macon55023
Adams4865
Tazewell4488
Randolph4417
Coles43320
Ogle4005
Clinton37817
Williamson3646
Whiteside33516
Stephenson3256
Union30923
Grundy2995
Monroe29913
Knox2852
Iroquois2529
Henry2241
Morgan2226
Vermilion2222
Cass21911
Jefferson21819
Warren1870
Bureau1702
Lee1621
Montgomery1617
Macoupin1543
Marion1530
Franklin1470
Perry1421
McDonough13715
Effingham1291
Christian1284
Saline1262
Woodford1253
Jo Daviess1211
Douglas1062
Livingston1032
Pulaski910
Logan900
Jersey851
Clark761
Mercer733
Moultrie690
Shelby681
Johnson660
White640
Fayette603
Washington600
Bond593
Jasper557
Wayne551
Piatt540
Menard530
Cumberland512
Ford511
Carroll484
Gallatin482
Hancock461
Mason450
Lawrence440
Alexander360
Massac360
Wabash340
Greene330
De Witt320
Fulton320
Crawford290
Edgar280
Hamilton260
Marshall220
Clay180
Hardin180
Pike180
Edwards170
Schuyler170
Richland150
Brown130
Scott130
Putnam110
Henderson100
Calhoun90
Pope80
Stark70
Out of IL00

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 71015

Reported Deaths: 3013
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion15322723
Lake7343274
Elkhart471380
Allen3725160
St. Joseph330179
Hamilton2610104
Vanderburgh184213
Hendricks1814106
Cass17669
Johnson1694118
Porter123839
Clark114846
Tippecanoe114611
Madison89565
LaPorte86930
Howard85565
Kosciusko82712
Marshall75822
Bartholomew75447
Floyd74045
Monroe70830
Delaware68052
Dubois65812
Boone65346
Noble64529
Hancock63838
Jackson5625
LaGrange55410
Warrick55330
Vigo54310
Shelby53527
Grant52029
Dearborn47928
Morgan45134
Clinton4043
Henry36919
White35110
Montgomery34621
Wayne34610
Lawrence33727
Decatur32432
Harrison30923
Putnam2778
Miami2642
Daviess25920
Scott25710
Greene24134
Franklin23413
DeKalb2234
Jasper2192
Jennings21512
Gibson2084
Steuben2043
Ripley1947
Perry17912
Fayette1777
Starke1747
Orange16624
Posey1650
Wabash1613
Fulton1592
Carroll1572
Wells1542
Jefferson1532
Whitley1476
Knox1420
Tipton1296
Huntington1213
Washington1211
Spencer1193
Newton11410
Randolph1144
Clay1045
Sullivan911
Adams892
Jay840
Owen831
Pulaski751
Brown711
Rush714
Fountain642
Benton600
Blackford592
Ohio574
Pike520
Parke501
Vermillion480
Crawford440
Switzerland440
Martin420
Union350
Warren201
Unassigned0202